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City of Reidsville in limbo with Ethics Committee

The City of Reidsville does not have an active Ethics Committee as of September 12, 2022, which violates their city code. 

“The mayor and council shall appoint an ethics committee consisting of three persons. At least one member shall be an attorney in good standing with the State Bar of Georgia. All members shall be residents of the city and shall serve a three-year term. Members of the ethics committee must be approved by at least a four-fifths vote of the mayor and council and shall be appointed initially in such manner as to permit one term to terminate each year. The members of the ethics committee shall serve without compensation,” Reidsville City Code (Article VI, Sec. 2-172) says. 

Any violation of this article is punishable by penalties as provided in section 1-14 and by disciplinary action that may include private or public reprimand, impeachment, or both. 

Two citizens filed a complaint to the non-existent Reidsville Ethics Committee in July, and this complaint was not handled at the local level. This complaint has been filed at the state level, and The Journal Sentinel is following this developing story. 

City Clerk Nivea Jackson explained that Reidsville does not have an ethics committee, because they do not have a local attorney who is interested in serving. The city attorney cannot serve on this committee, which is DuAnn Cowart-Davis. 

At the September 12 council meeting, Councilwoman Lindsay Bennett made a motion to reestablish an ethics committee and requested that each council member bring a list of potential members by the October 10 council meeting.  Councilman Donald Prestage seconded this motion; Verdie Williams, Doug Williams, and Carolyn Crume-Blackshear  were opposed and asked to table it until the next meeting. 

All complaints against a member of mayor and council shall be filed in writing with the city clerk and referred to the ethics committee in such form as may be prescribed by the ethics committee. 

(b) Upon receipt of a complaint in proper form, the ethics committee shall:

(1) Review it to determine whether the complaint is unjustified, frivolous, patently unfounded, or fails to state facts sufficient to invoke the disciplinary action, or is to be considered for further investigation. 

(2) Be empowered to dismiss those complaints which are unjustified, frivolous, patently unfounded or which fail to state facts sufficient to invoke the disciplinary jurisdiction of the member of the mayor and council; provided, however, that a rejection of such complaint by the ethics committee shall not deprive the complaining party of any action he might otherwise have at law or in equity against the respondent government servant. 

(3) Be empowered to collect evidence and information concerning any complaint and to add to the findings and result of its investigations to the file containing such complaint. 

(4) Be empowered to conduct probable cause investigations to take evidence and hold hearings.

(5) Make recommendations to the mayor and council to invoke disciplinary action. The mayor and council shall take action upon the recommendation of the ethics committee at the next regular meeting of the mayor and council following receipt of the recommendation. 

(c) All actions taken by the ethics committee shall be taken within 30 days of receipt of the complaint. The decision by the ethics committee shall be reduced to writing and served upon all parties at interest within five days of reaching a decision. 

Decisions of the mayor and council pursuant to this article shall be reviewable by the Superior Court of Tattnall County upon notice in writing filed within 30 days of receipt of notice of the decision of the ethics committee. Review by the superior court shall be limited to an inquiry of whether there was any evidence before the mayor and council which supported the decision of the mayor and council. Provided, however no action of the mayor and council refusing or failing to take action pursuant to this article shall be reviewable by the superior court. 

In order to be a Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) Certified City of Ethics, GMA’s Ethics Certification Committee reviews and approves or disapproves the ordinances and resolutions submitted by the city. GMA does not enforce or regulate ethics ordinances, but cities lose their City of Ethics certification after four years and can be re-certified.